ROME (Reuters) - The head of Italy's state pension agency resigned on Saturday after a scandal involving conflict of interest and pension contribution irregularities that has embarrassed Enrico Letta's fragile coalition government.
Antonio Mastrapasqua, the chief of the state pension and welfare fund INPS, stepped down after the government presented legislation on Friday to prevent public sector managers holding multiple positions potentially involving conflicts of interest.
Mastrapasqua came under scrutiny this week when it emerged that a Rome court was investigating a private hospital, of which he is director general, for alleged billing malpractice and late pension payments on behalf of its employees.
Mastrapasqua, a non-partisan technocrat, sits on the boards and committees of numerous public and private companies and has been characterised in the media as a prime example of someone benefiting unfairly from his role in the public sector elite.
He has denied all wrong-doing and said on Wednesday he had no intention of resigning.
But his position became untenable as parliamentarians close to Matteo Renzi, the centre-left leader of the biggest party in Letta's government, said that he should go. The cabinet bill on Friday appeared to target Mastrapasqua directly.
"I think Mastrapasqua has made a wise choice," Letta said on Saturday during a visit to Abu Dhabi. "He understood the sense of the government's initiative, that you can't have such important positions without an exclusive contract."
Mastrapasqua had been the head of INPS since 2008. Among his other posts, he is the vice president of the tax collection agency Equitalia.
A Rome court is investigating the private Israelite Hospital where Mastrapasqua is director general for alleged billing irregularities and some 40 million euros ($54 million) in pension back payments owed to INPS for its employees, daily Corriere della Sera said on Friday, citing INPS documents.
On Sunday, Agriculture Minister Nunzia de Girolamo became the second minister in Letta's government to resign after she was caught on tape in an embarrassing exchange involving public contracts in her home region of Benevento, in southern Italy.
Last year Sports and Equal Opportunities Minister Josefa Idem resigned over a tax evasion scandal.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)